ABINGDON, Va. — You can find John O’Quinn hawking his wooden creations every Saturday morning at the Abingdon Farmers Market.
There, his tables and lazy Susans make quite a display among other vendors selling cucumbers, eggs, beef, candles, coffee, sausage and hot pepper jelly.
“I’ll probably put out 100, 150 different items every week,” he said.
And while he lives at Rural Retreat in the southern section of Wythe County, Virginia, O’Quinn actually has longtime ties to Washington County.
He grew up in Clintwood among the steep-sided mountains of Dickenson County. “I come out of the coal industry. And if you got 2 acres of flat land, you were a millionaire.”
In the disco days of 1978, O’Quinn headed east to the shiny shoreline of South Holston Lake in Washington County. There, he leased Wolf Lair Campground — not far from Washington County Park.
O’Quinn stayed just two years and spent some time on a houseboat, parked on Spring Creek, where he loved to go fishing for largemouth bass and catfish.
“And that’s where the fish were at — up in that little cove,” O’Quinn said.
“But that was my biggest mistake — ever leaving that campground,” O’Quinn said with a laugh. “The customers and the patrons, they came to have a good time, and they were very sociable.”
O’Quinn laughed again.
“I made more money there than any place in my life,” he said. “I worked nine months out of the year and fished when I wanted to.”
Next, O’Quinn constructed the building that is now Ernie Sullins Clothing Outlet in Abingdon along U.S. Highway 11.
The year was 1980, and O’Quinn called that convenience store “East End Food Center.” He ran the place for four years, and he became known to parents for giving out free candy to kids.
“It was penny candy — just something they could stick in their pocket.”
Starting in 1985, O’Quinn worked the next several years in Tennessee at Pigeon Forge, Knoxville and Bristol. Among his duties: managing a truck stop.
Later, in 1998, he returned to South Holston Lake to work as a salesman for Wilson’s Bait and Tackle at Denton Valley along the Tennessee-Virginia border.
These days, at 65, O’Quinn lives with his wife, Darlene, at Rural Retreat — about a half-hour north of Washington County.
Still, once a week, he makes the early morning drive to Abingdon on Saturdays, setting up at the Abingdon Farmers Market.
For sure, you’ll find it’s clear that a piece of his heart belongs in Washington County.
“The sheer beauty,” he said. “And it still is. Washington County is a beautiful county. It has neat things to offer to anybody passing through on a one-day visit to a week visit.”